Learning to Drive – Decision Making on the Fly

When I was 16 years old I got my learner’s permit and had a part-time job. My boss was was a really great driver. After work we’d hit the road. He taught me how to do double-clutch downshifts to match the RPMs of the next lower gear before executing the downshift. He taught fundamentals like learning to drive smooth. Nothing is jerky. No clutch dumping. No whipping the wheel into a 90 degree turn. The idea was to get the best performance out of your car without damaging it, and always staying in control, but on the edge of losing it.

I learned how to take a roundabout at high speed without losing control–feathering brakes, clutch and accelerator to transfer vehicle weight in and out of turns. Downshift into the turn to transfer weight to the front wheels so that they bite (but not too much). Accelerate on the way out at the apex to transfer weight to the back wheels and get maximum acceleration out of the turn (but not too much). He taught me about the line of a turn, and how to take best advantage to maximize speed. “Remain tangential to the outside on the way in, on the inside at the apex, and back to the outside for the exit.” I’m no race car driver, not will I ever be, but what I learned has saved my life at least once. Hesitate or miscalculate and the consequences can be disastrous.

Think of the decisions that need to be made, and the skills required to execute a high-performance drive. Demanding high-performance execution without training your driver to execute and make decisions in real-time guarantees sub-optimal performance and high risk failure. Deciding when to downshift to transfer vehicle weight taking into account road conditions, tire temperature, and your vehicle’s capabilities takes practice. The driver must learn to become one with the car. You can write a driving manual, with every conceivable detail captured, but putting that manual in the hands of a novice driver and expecting the driver to deliver high-performance is naive. Think about all the implicit knowledge that influences your decision making on the road. The sound of the engine, the feel of the wheel, the sound of your tires on the road, your instrument panel. Imagine putting a top-notch driver in the passenger seat and having her tell the novice driver what to do and when. How effective would that be? Better than a driving manual, but not the best. Driving takes skill and practice. The skills are implicit. Until you experience what your car can do and how you handle it, you don’t really know how far you can push towards high performance. Put a high performance car in the hands of a novice and you can end up with a wreck.

The ability to deliver high performance execution comes from experience. It’s the applied knowledge accumulated through trials, failure, feedback, and the development of the sixth sense that aggregates the sensory inputs with one’s experience to deliver real-time, high performance decisions.

If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, you know what I am talking about.

How are you coaching the “drivers” in your organization?


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